Coming into the year Mitch Keller was my 29th ranked prospect in baseball and 9th ranked pitcher, and that will likely be the last rankings list he is on here at Three Quarter Slot as he will make his big league debut on Memorial Day evening as he will start the second game of a double-header in Cincinnati. The top ranked Pittsburgh Pirates prospect will try and improve a rotation that is coming off a rough weekend as the club gave up 10-7-11 runs to the Dodgers in a three-game set.
Keller’s fastball can touch triple digits but really sits up to 97 on most days with heavy sink. The delivery is easy and repeatable making him a guy who can eat innings and keep his velo deep into starts. He pairs that with a plus curve with a sharp 11-5 curve that breaks well over two planes. His change is still a tick below average but is on track to develop into an easy average offering.
His delivery can show the ball behind his back some, but the controlled motions and high 3/4 slot allows him to throw all his pitches for strikes and really attacks hitters. If/when the change becomes a solid out pitch, he can become a strong number two starter (there aren’t 30 number one starters so likely the future ace of the staff) who can work deep into games. It will be interesting to see how deep the Pirates let him go in his first start, but as the second starter of a twin billing it may come down to how well the first game goes. Being part of a double-header is always a risk that he gets sent right back down the AAA but, even if he does, it won’t be for long as he might be the second best starter in the organization today.
Before I even got this posted Alex Reyes exhausted his rookie eligibility (needed a single out to do so and pitched an inning on Friday) so I updated my top 150 before it went live. Reyes was at 22 but is now removed making room for Ryan Weathers, giving the Padres two more than any other team with 12 players making the top 150. 15 players on the list open the season in the big leagues, with 14 of those in the top 80 and the Padres and Mariners both starting with two players in the big leagues.
Quick Report: A hard sinking fastball that can touch triple digits and sit up to 97 is a hard pitch to hit at any level, add to that a strong 11-5 curve and you have the makings of an impressive pitcher. In order to truly be effective as a starter, he needs to improve the change that is not quite average but showing signs it will get there, which will make the fastball and curve play even better. The delivery is smooth and repeatable, although he has battled injuries throughout his pro career. He has the future of a number two or three starter, although he could have to become a dominant reliever if the change doesn’t improve, but I foresee him settling in as a staple in the Pirates rotation as early as this June.
Quick Report: A real shot to be a future Gold Glove award winner, Hayes has the bloodlines (his father Charlie Hayes played 13 years in the big leagues) and athleticism to be special. He has a contact first approach that has also seen him improve his walk rate every pro season. The bat seems to be pulled through the zone rather than snappy so the power upside may be limited, but a guy who hits for a solid average, can leg out plenty of doubles, and plays elite defense can be a starter for a long time at the big league level.
Quick Report: The tenth overall pick a season ago, Swaggerty really made a name for himself starring on the collegiate team for Team USA after his sophomore year. He made some mechanical adjustments to his swing to go from a more contact oriented bat to a guy with plus raw power. He has a long stride that allows him to really get into the ball to the pull side but can swing over the ball quite a bit too. Despite the stride suggesting he should struggle with off-speed stuff, he has very good hands that adjust well and will limit the number of strikeouts he is saddles with. In the field he can fly and is improving on his routes, suggesting he will be an above average center fielder with a plus arm for the position.
Quick Report: Quite possibly the most intriguing prospect in baseball, Cruz is listed at 6’6” but some say he is at least an inch taller. The simple fact is there has never been a player able to stick at short with his size, but there is a chance he sticks there. He has good hands and as strong an arm as any position player in baseball. He runs well for a long legged guy, although it is more straight line speed than quickness. If he does move off short, the first move would likely be to center, but if he ends up losing too much athleticism (he is insanely lean at just 175 lbs. after all) he could be a plus defender in right. There is real concern about his ability to make consistent contact, but that may not be too big a concern as he has top of the scale raw power and is already allowing that to translate to game power. If he can prove he is able to hit .275, which is unlikely, and stick at short, he will be the number one prospect in the game in a couple years. That is his ceiling, but I see him more as a .260 hitter with 35+ home runs and a change to be an above average defensive center fielder.
Quick Report: Shoulder injuries are always scary, but Tucker has bounced back from a labrum tear early in his career to see his arm return to plus status. His defense at short is smooth and is good enough to make him be an impactful player regardless of his offense, which has improved. He is much better from the left side of the plate as his swing is smooth and is able to barrel up the ball well. From the right side, the swing gets a bit clunky and he grounds out too often, but he is still very lean, so there is a chance that smooths out as he fills out more and could become a guy who runs into double digit home runs.
Quick Report: Kramer struggled in his brief taste of the big leagues a season ago, but that is of little concern to the Pirates. He is a player who has always been able to make adjustments, going from a contact first hitter to a guy looking to hit for power, he now needs to improve his approach at the plate, something I have little doubt he will be able to do. His future as an everyday player is at second base, but if he can’t hold down an everyday job he can be a utility infielder that can hold down short in a pinch and has enough arm to play third.
Quick Report: Newman lands this high on the list purely based on floor as his ceiling is quite limited. He is a solid shortstop who can play very good defense at second and hold down third if needed. At the plate it is an all contact, no power approach, which really limits his impact. He doesn’t walk much, but he rarely strikes out, which allows him to potentially be a guy who hits second in a lineup, but more likely a number seven type hitter. If all comes together, he could have a ceiling of a David Eckstein, but that will most likely be a utility role due to the infield talent the Pirates have on the way.
Quick Report: I really struggled with who to place higher between Mitchell and Reynolds, and ultimately settled giving Reynolds the nod ahead of Mitchell.. While Vandy has an impressive track record of pitching talent in recent years, their outfield prospects have proven to be better in college than in the pros, and I fear Reynolds may be another example of this. He is a solid defensive center fielder but lacks the arm strength to be a true fourth outfielder as he would not be able to play right. There is hope he develops into average power, and the swing does make it easy to put an above average raw grade on it, but it is the contact and the fact he is a switch hitter that will carry him.
Quick Report: Defensively, Mitchell is quite limited, likely to be a left fielder and some chance he has to move to the dirt and play first. He has a smooth stroke from the left side of the plate that could keep up and allow him to develop an above average hit tool. There is a good bat plane to translate to power, but he lacks projectability, so I don’t see a whole lot more game power showing up. In the end, he will be a guy who could become above average hit, average power, but a defensive liability that limits his upside.
Quick Report: Sitting in the mid-90s and running his fastball up to 97 wasn’t something many saw coming when he signed with the Pirates as an infielder in 2013. Now he is a power pitcher that has started all but five of his pro appearances, although his big league future is in the bullpen. He has the big fastball, but also has an above average curve and a change that has shown signs of being a plus pitch. The command is, well, poor and there is a lot of effort in the delivery, so the future is almost certainly as a high leverage reliever, although the command could limit his effectiveness in that role.